April 22, 2009


The only clearly discernible trend in the April 7 suburban elections was that there was no trend, only a diverse array of results attributable to local factors.

The "Jan/Bob Machine" and the "Blasé Machine" kept control in Evanston and Niles. First-term mayors were ousted in Park Ridge, Morton Grove and Berwyn. Longtime mayors were bounced in Bensenville, Franklin Park and Palatine.

Incumbents retained dominance in Lincolnwood, Arlington Heights, Rosemont, Melrose Park and Mount Prospect. Unions scored a major win in Des Plaines, as did airport expansion advocates (especially Chicago Mayor Rich Daley) in Bensenville. The Republicans got takeovers in Harwood Heights and Morton Grove, and the Democrats took over in Des Plaines and Franklin Park.

In northwest suburban Maine Township, the Republicans barely won. The area is moving inexorably Democratic.

Here's an analysis:

Evanston: In a contest with national and state implications, Alderman Liz Tisdahl was elected mayor, replacing 16-year African-American incumbent Lorraine Morton, who retired. Tisdahl was the anointed candidate of Evanston's formidable "Jan/Bob Machine," run by U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-9) and her husband, Bob Creamer. In a turnout of 10,307, Tisdahl finished first with 6,400 votes (62.1 percent of the total); trailing were pro-development attorney Stu Opdycke (1,803 votes), publicist Barnaby Dinges (1,284) and anti-development activist Jeanne Lindwall (620).

Schakowsky, age 64, is likely to run for U.S. senator in 2010, and she would face appointed incumbent Roland Burris and state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias in the Democratic primary. Maintaining her Evanston base was critical.

Park Ridge: First-term Republican Mayor Howard Frimark was handily defeated  -- 4,885-3,770 -- by another Republican, Alderman Dave Schmidt, who got 56.5 percent of the vote. This oddity arose because Democrats failed to field a candidate.

"Reagan Republican" Schmidt entered the race as a "protest" candidate, fervently opposing construction of a $16 million police station. Schmidt didn't expect to win, and he didn't have to forfeit his aldermanic seat.

But a "perfect storm" arose. The police station referendum lost by 4,332-3,824. Frimark took no position, stating that he would abide by the outcome. That equivocation was costly, as opponents flocked to Schmidt, who spent $30,000, to Frimark's $71,000.  Flanking Frimark on both the right and left, Schmidt energized fiscal conservatives while getting votes from liberals and Democrats, since he was the only alternative.

Frimark won in 2005 by 4,889-3,224, in a turnout of 8,113. Frimark thought he'd get 5,000 votes this year, but his vote declined by 1,119. Clearly, the election result was anti-Frimark. In 2013 Schmidt won't get a free pass from the Democrats.

Maine Township: Ironically, the Schmidt vote proved decisive in the tight race for supervisor between appointed Republican incumbent Carol Teschky and Democratic Trustee Peter Ryan.

Republican Bob Dudycz won the supervisor's job in 2001 by 9,432-6,991; in 2005, he was reelected in 2005 by 9,751-6,982. On April 7 Teschky beat Ryan by 10,635-8,891. Turnout was 2,793 higher than in 2005, and Ryan got 1,900 more votes than the 2005 Democrat. He should have won, but conservative Schmidt voters hit for Teschky, and she got 884 more votes than Dudycz. Had Frimark been unopposed, Park Ridge turnout would have been minimal, and Teschky would have lost. "They (the Democrats) spread lies about township finances," Teschky said. "They brought in outside workers and outside money. They were rejected."

But note this: the Democrats lost by 2,411 votes in 2001, by 2,769 votes in 2005, and by 1,744 votes in 2009. Republicans should be very worried.

Niles: As they say, it ain't over until it's over. And the 2009 mayoral election isn't over. Acting Mayor Bob Callero, who replaced Nick Blase last August, faced four opponents. The most formidable was Trustee Kim Sychowski Biederman, who hammered Callero for his alleged "ethics" transgressions and called for "change."

The subtext of the campaign was Blase's indictment and guilty plea for taking $420,000 in bribes from an insurance company. Callero was Blase's handpicked successor. Blase endorsed him and his organization worked for him, but most voters evidenced no revulsion. They still love their 47-year mayor, who was first elected in 1961. As the "New Nick," Callero finished first with 2,602 votes (48.9 percent of the total) in a turnout of 5,324; Biederman was second with 1,412 votes (26.5 percent), followed by Chris Hanusiak with 1,062, Luigi Nitti with 138 and Carol Harczak with 110.

"More than a majority wanted change" sniffed Biederman, adding that she may run again in 2013. "(Callero) ran a negative campaign, attacking my endorsements" by prominent Democrats. Callero feels likewise: "She ran a negative campaign, fabricating ethics issues and bringing in outsiders to tell us how to vote," he said. "The voters resented it."

Callero, age 71, may not run again in 2013.

Niles voters are not used to tempestuous politics. A plurality, but not a majority, wish to continue Blase-like rule, with low taxes and good services. Callero won't be "Blase II." The real race for succession will be in 2013.

Harwood Heights: Democrat Ray Willas was the village's mayor from 1973 to 2001. Since then the village has suffered political chaos. In 2005 Democrat Peggy Fuller won the mayoralty by 28 votes. After 4 unproductive years, Fuller retired and endorsed Trustee Mark Dobrzycki for the job. Dobrzycki faced Republican Trustee Arlene Jezierny, and he got clobbered by 251 votes, getting 43 percent of the total cast. Jezierny begins her term with a 5-1 majority among trustees. She must govern well, or the revolving door will swing again in 4 years.

Franklin Park: A win is a win, however slim. Barrett Pedersen, the Leyden Township Democratic committeeman, ran a masterful, expensive campaign, ripping incumbent Republican Dan Pritchett for "abuse of power," excessive city inspections and a "friends and family plan" to pad the payroll, calling it "nepotism run amok." Pritchett noted that Pedersen used to be the village attorney, and that he never uttered a peep while collecting $36,000 a year. "He's an opportunist," Pritchett said.

Pedersen's campaign copied organizer Saul Alinsky's playbook: Pick a target, freeze it, personalize it, and then polarize it. By campaign's end, Pritchett's reputation was trashed, but Pritchett failed to spend the $150,000 in his campaign account to besmirch Pedersen. In a turnout of 3,812, Pritchett got 1,320 votes (34.6 percent of the total), while Pedersen got just 156 more votes (38.7 percent). Police officer Bill Ruhl got 1,016 votes (26.7 percent).

Pedersen understood that any campaign is a referendum on the incumbent. Pritchett's abysmal 34.6 percent was a huge voter rejection.

Des Plaines: Score a big win for the unions. Marty Moylan, an alderman and an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers business agent, posted a 1,473-vote win for mayor, getting 43.2 percent of the vote. He will succeed term-limited Tony Arredia. Two Republicans, Mark Thompson and Dick Sayad, got a combined 50.1 percent of the vote. Had a single Republican run, Moylan might have lost.

With an anticipated $9 million to $10 million annual revenue from the new casino approved by the state beginning in 2012, Des Plaines is a veritable cash cow. Moylan ran an astute and highly visible campaign, raised more than $50,000, and had a lot of outside Democratic workers. But Des Plaines' mayors can only serve two terms, so Moylan will be history by 2017.

Morton Grove: Taxes do matter. Incumbent Democrat Rick Krier is an object lesson for Cook County Board President Todd Stroger. Krier failed to keep his promise to cut the "garbage tax," and he raised a multitude of taxes and fees, proclaiming it was "necessary and responsible." Voters thought otherwise.

Krier beat Republican Dan Staackmann in 2005 by 2,435-1,955, with 55 percent of the vote. In the April 7 rematch, running as the anti-tax candidate, Staackmann won 1,991-1,624, with 55 percent of the vote. Krier's vote dropped by 800 -- a clear rejection.

Berwyn and Bensenville: Both towns had independent-minded mayors and have large Hispanic populations. Both now have pro-Daley stooges.

John Geils' raison d'etre in Bensenville has been to block O'Hare runway expansion, ignoring other issues. Frank Soto organized Hispanics, had workers sent in from Chicago, and walloped Geils by 2,273-1,116, getting 67.1 percent of the vote.

The Hispanic Democratic Organization has evaporated, but Hispanic Democrats always seek to expand their turf. A big winner on April 7 was state Senator Marty Sandoval (D-12), whose district includes Cicero, Berwyn and Stickney.

Corruption-tainted Berwyn Mayor Tom Shaughnessy quit in 2005, and liberal reformer Mike O'Connor won a four-way contest, getting 5,927 votes (56.5 percent of the total). This year the old-line Democrats backed Alderman Bob Lovero, and Sandoval flooded Berwyn's Hispanic precincts (40 percent of the town) with his workers.

Lovero topped O'Connor by 4,232-3,526, getting 49.4 percent of the vote, with two others running. O'Connor's vote fell by 2,401 from 2005, and turnout fell by 1,917. Anti-corruption fervor has abated. Credit Sandoval for Lovero's win, and add Berwyn to his turf.